Charleston Coconut Cake

If you’re a fan of this cake then you already know how amazing it is. If you’re just learning about Charleston coconut cake now, you’re in for one amazing treat! This cake is a bit of a process to make but you don’t need to be a seasoned baker to take on a cake like this one. Traditionally, a Charleston coconut cake has up to 12 layers of cake and frosting, making it a towering achievement in cake construction. We’ve simplified it a little bit here in this recipe with only three layers of dessert heaven.
We really wanted to amp up the coconut flavor so we’ve used canned coconut milk (check the Asian foods section of your grocery store) in places that would otherwise call for heavy cream. And of course, we add coconut extract and coconut flakes to our Charleston coconut cake, as there’s clearly a theme here and it’s COCONUT! There’s coconut in the cake, in the filling, and in the frosting, so at no moment is the message lost that it is a coconut cake. Flavor is huge here, which takes a cue from all of those amazing layers that add an astonishing height to Charleston coconut cake.
No specialty items are needed, just multiples of some key ingredients, like shredded coconut, canned coconut milk, and butter. You’ll need to pick up 2 (13 oz) cans of coconut milk, 8 sticks of unsalted butter, and 2 packages of shredded coconut. These are all combined during three phases of preparation: cake, filling, and frosting to make the coconut “glue” that will hold the cake together.
Charleston coconut cake is a bit of a legend in the state of South Carolina, a butter cake with layers of rich coconut filling, cream cheese frosting and, of course, toasted coconut. The toasted coconut is the final element of the cake that really gives it some elegance (as if it needed it) and the toasty coconut is a nice contrast in flavor and creamy texture. It’s one of those extra special desserts that will leave a lasting impression, especially on the taste buds. We can’t make it to South Carolina, but we can do our best to remake this cake right in the comfort of our own kitchen.

Charleston Coconut Cake
1 hour 30 minutes active, 4 hours inactive to prepare serves 10
For the Cake:
4 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
6 large eggs
3 cups sugar
1 (13 oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
¾ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Coconut Cream Filling:
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 (13 oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup sugar
1 ¼ sticks unsalted butter
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 (14 oz) package sweetened coconut
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
Coconut Frosting:
6 cups powdered sugar
1 (14 oz) package shredded coconut
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
12 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons cream of coconut
½ tablespoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325°F. Generously coat 3 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Set aside.
Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together in a large bowl. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light in color and texture. Slowly add eggs and beat on low speed until well combined. Add half of flour mixture and beat on low until thoroughly blended. Pour 1 (13 oz) can coconut milk, sour cream, vanilla and coconut extract into mixing bowl and beat until combined.
Add remaining flour mixture, scraping sides of bowl to collect all ingredients. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans. Bake on middle rack for 45-55 minutes or until cake tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes directly in pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
For coconut filling, combine cornstarch, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of water, whisk until well blended. Set aside.
Heat heavy cream, 1 (13 oz) can coconut milk, butter, and sugar in a large saucepan set to medium-high. Bring mixture to a low boil, stirring frequently. Add cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil. Stir for 60 seconds then remove from heat. Add 1 package shredded coconut and stir to combine. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until fully chilled.
Prepare coconut frosting for cake assembly. Preheat oven to 350°F and spread 1/2 package shredded coconut evenly on a baking sheet. Bake until just golden brown, about 5 minutes or so. Set aside.
Beat butter, cream cheese, vanilla, cream of coconut, and salt with an electric mixer until well blended. Slowly add powdered sugar at low speed, 1 cup at a time.
To assemble, slice tops off of each cake with a serrated knife. Place one cake on a large plate or cake platter. Scoop ½ of coconut filling over cut side of cake and spread evenly to edges. Place second cake over top of coconut filling and repeat with remaining coconut filling. Place third cake over top, cut side down. Cover top and sides of cake with coconut frosting. Sprinkle with reserved shredded coconut and garnish with toasted coconut.
Refrigerate cake until chilled, about 3-4 hours. Cake is ready to serve.